Public health has issued a warning after four people were bitten by raccoons in Grey-Bruce over the last week-and-a-half.
Robert Hart, a manager with the Grey Bruce Health Unit, said while the agency typically receives some 500 reports of animal bites a year, a string of incidents within a short period of time throws up a red flag.
It is possible, he said, that distemper is to blame.
“It’s unusual for us to get a cluster and it could be coincidental, but we thought it was a good idea to put the advisory out,” he said in an interview.
The alert advises people to keep a safe distance from wildlife and ensure pets are under control at all times while outdoors.
One person was bitten by a raccoon in Owen Sound, while two bites were reported in the Walkerton area and another in Kincardine.
The health unit has contacted the Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre at the University of Guelph to see if the group has noticed an increase in disease in raccoons, such as distemper which has symptoms similar to rabies, Hart said.
“They did note that in the past little while, 80% of the raccoons that they had tested from different sites in Ontario had tested positive for distemper. So it does seem that distemper is definitely in the raccoon population. Whether there is an actual epidemic going on is hard to say,” he said.
Unlike rabies, distemper does not pose a threat to human health, he said.
However, it puts people at a greater risk of getting bitten.
If a person is bitten by a raccoon and public health is unable to test the animal for rabies, the person would likely have to get the post-exposure rabies prophylaxis, he said.
Possible human rabies transmission is public health’s primary concern with biting incidents, he said.